The Boston States
For generations, Boston was the American home for expatriate Cape Breton Islanders. Far from the rich Scottish culture of their island home in Nova Scotia, Cape Breton and Maritime Canadian dancehalls grew up around the Watertown neighborhood and other parts of Boston. The Canadian-American Club, the French Victory Club, the Greenville Cafe; these old dancehalls rang with the sound of fiddle, piano, and stomping feet, racing through the instrumental dance tunes of Cape Breton with the powerful syncopation that’s made this fiddling one of Canada’s hottest roots music exports. This is where young Boston fiddler Katie McNally grew up, playing for dances, leading sessions, and learning from older fiddlers. Her new album as the Katie McNally Trio pays homage to this world, which still exists today. The title of the album, The Boston States, comes from the name Maritime Canadians gave the city of Boston as they moved between the two countries, and today McNally herself moves between many different worlds as a much in-demand teacher and performer of Scottish music.
The Boston States features original and traditional tunes rubbing shoulders with wickedly complex arrangements that would test most fiddlers’ mettle. With the Katie McNally Trio, McNally has brought together an innovative ensemble as grounded in the tradition as it is ground-breaking. Pianist Neil Pearlman has mastered the explosive piano style of Cape Breton accompaniment, with stride and boogie-woogie influences marked by huge chords and a propulsion system built on heavy syncopation. He’s also bringing in non-traditional ideas from his work with Latin and Jazz musicians in Boston and New York. The third member, Shauncey Ali came from the bluegrass fiddle world, but McNally brought him in to the trio as a violist. The deeper timbre of his instrument weaves together with McNally’s fiddle, bringing out a richer depth to the tunes. The Boston States was produced by renowned Cape Breton fiddler Wendy MacIsaac, known herself for her work pushing the tradition forward, most recently with Cape Breton vocalist Mary Jane Lamond.
The theme of movement is strong with this album, representing the diaspora of Cape Breton islanders in America. Traditional tunes were sourced from Cape Breton fiddlers beloved in Boston, like Bill Lamey, Joe Cormier, and Jerry Holland, but McNally’s original tunes also reflect her own journeys spent teaching and performing this vital music. Scottish fiddler Johnny Cunningham used to say that the fiddle is a passport to the world, but McNally proves it can also be a window into our own communities, here shedding new light on Boston’s historical connection to Atlantic Canada.